Composer Arthur Levering 76 can honestly say that a performance of his chamber music once nearly bombed. During a 1992 concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, an IRA bomb threat prompted the audience to move to one side of the church as a precaution against shattered stained glass, Levering says. "There was no actual interruption as the announcement came in between performances; we simply moved to the other side of the church and nobody left," he said.
There is a similar unflappable quality about Levering, especially when he discusses his musical beginnings. Citing his mother, "an amateur pianist," as his only childhood classical influence, Levering said, "I had a typical teenager's life--typical in that I didn't have a great interest in classical music. I liked the garage band style of rock 'n roll and was a great admirer of Jimi Hendrix. I attended a very small prep school with no music courses in the curriculum. Fortunately, an interested teacher gave me a book on rudimentary music theory, which I worked through on my own.''
Levering chose to pursue music formally "dangerously late in life" while at Colby. "I had Professor Dorothy Reuman for a theory of music class, which I enjoyed very much in my first year. After a course with Professor [of Music, Emeritus] Peter Ré, who was very encouraging, I dabbled in composition. I began to enjoy music in an entirely different way. There was a whole new world of music to unlock. After these courses, I didn't have to rely on playing by ear," Levering said.
The succession of guitars owned by Levering paralleled his changing musical interests. Trading in his electric for a steel string acoustic, Levering began to play what he characterized as a "Leo Kottke style" of guitar music. In his junior year at Colby and largely through his friendship with Gail Chase '74 (who currently serves in the Maine State Senate), Levering unwittingly made a career-defining decision by switching to classical guitar. "Gail had a classical guitar that I simply borrowed and began playing," he said.
Shortly after he graduated from Colby with a degree in music, Levering went to Yale University School of Music, earning a master's degree in 1979. For the next five years, he performed throughout the country with a lutenist as a member of the Orpharion Duo.
Levering shifted to composing in 1985 because he realized he wouldn't achieve a virtuoso level as a performer because of his late start as a musician. "In addition, I was growing dissatisfied with the repertoire of classical music for guitar," he said. "Even through transcription and performing, a guitarist doesn't get to participate to a great degree in mainstream classical music."
Levering returned to school to pursue a master's degree in music composition at Boston University, where he studied under 1984 Pulitzer Prize winner Bernard Rands. Since earning his degree in 1988, Levering has composed chamber pieces that have been performed in London and Rome. In April the Cleveland Chamber Symphony will perform his first orchestra piece, Time's Arrow, named after the book by Martin Amis.